The debate has raged for years, and became acute in March when the in-person world ceased to exist. Is internet access an essential utility like power and water? For caregivers with school age children, the answer is an emphatic “Yes.”
The broadband divide and access to the internet quickly became the difference between receiving an education or not. With all school services now delivered online, households without internet or broadband access were left behind. We have yet to fully understand the negative impacts on children who were not able to engage with online learning through the last year, but it’s reasonable to expect those impacts will be significant.
Dr. Jon Tienhaara, Superintendent of the South Bend School District, reached out to the Ben B. Cheney Foundation to see if we could help with a creative idea. What if he was able to get internet access to the 20 homes he and his team identified in their rural community that have families with students, but do not have access to the internet – could we help?
Dr. Tienhaara found a ready partner with the Pacific County PUD, but needed funding to complete the project. The PUD could install new broadband radio devices on these homes, allowing the homes to access the new PUD line-of-site broadband network.
Next, the partners figured out a way to route this network to the South Bend School District K-20 Education Network. The K-20 Network was launched in 1996 with funds from the Washington State Legislature to provide a cost-effective solution to meeting the diverse video and data needs of the state’s entire educational community. K-20 is the only high-speed, high-capacity network entirely dedicated to meeting the unique needs and diverse interests of Washington State’s educational community. In short, this is the internet access one would find inside any educational institution in Washington, and Dr. Tienhaara could now extend that service to his students’ homes.
With the creative thinking and partnerships, the 20 student households in the rural community of South Bend were connected online. The students in these households were able to attend and participate in the district’s online coursework. As an added benefit, the K-20 network allows access to other government websites, providing the adults in the household a new ability to communicate with and complete forms for any agency in the state system. Dr. Tienhaara was also able to bring telemedicine to his students and families through another partnership agreement, providing access families and students never had to a broad base of healthcare services.
The Ben B. Cheney Foundation is proud to partner with Dr. Tienhaara and the South Bend School District to help bring access and supports to families in their community. We imagine that our founder, Ben Cheney, who attended South Bend, would be very happy.
Learn more about the South Bend School District at; southbend.wednet.edu